Nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (NNMT) is responsible for the N-methylation of nicotinamide to 1-methylnicotinamide. Our recent studies have demonstrated that NNMT regulates cellular processes fundamental to the correct functioning and survival of the cell. It has been proposed that NNMT may possess β-carboline (BC) N-methyltransferase activity, endogenously and exogenously produced pyridine-containing compounds which, when N-methylated, are potent inhibitors of Complex I and have been proposed to have a role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. We have investigated the ability of recombinant NNMT to N-methylate norharman (NH) to 2-N-methylnorharman (MeNH). In addition, we have investigated the toxicity of the BC NH, its precursor 1,2,3,4-tetrahydronorharman (THNH) and its N-methylated metabolite MeNH, using our in vitro SH-SY5Y NNMT expression model. Recombinant NNMT demonstrated NH 2N-methyltransferase activity, with a Km of 90 ± 20 µM, a kcat of 3 × 10−4 ± 2 × 10−5 s−1 and a specificity constant (kcat/Km) of 3 ± 1 s−1 M−1. THNH was the least toxic of all three compounds investigated, whereas NH demonstrated the greatest, with no difference observed in terms of cell viability and cell death between NNMT-expressing and non-expressing cells. In NNMT-expressing cells, MeNH increased cell viability and cellular ATP concentration in a dose-dependent manner after 72 and 120 h incubation, an effect that was not observed after 24 h incubation or in non-NNNT-expressing cells at any time point. Taken together, these results suggest that NNMT may be a detoxification pathway for BCs such as NH.

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